Ravens are road-weary

OWINGS MILLS -- In a downward spiral that has exposed virtually every crack in the armor, the Baltimore Ravens' discomfort hasn't abated for over a year. Heading into today's game against the Denver Broncos (9-3) at Invesco Field, the Ravens (4-8) have lost nine consecutive road games. They're expected to run that cold streak to 10 as they've been installed as a two-touchdown underdog.

Ever since a Nov. 14, 2004 overtime win over the New York Jets at The Meadowlands, it has been nothing but futility away from Baltimore, including an 0-6 mark this year. A span of 392 days without a road win creates a significant strain, which is perhaps most evident on the charter flight home where silence is the chief response.

"When you win, you get to relax a lot more and the plane ain't so uptight," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They've been pretty uptight. No joking, just everybody be quiet."

The Ravens' average margin of defeat on the road this year is 13 points. Turnovers, penalties and red-zone failure have been the typical issues.

"Usually when you lose, it's because of turnovers, a lot of mental mistakes, and that's what we've done on the road," center Mike Flynn said. "They're going to be amplified on the road. The crowd gets into it, gets the home team excited. It kind of snowballs from there."

Now, the Ravens are facing a team that hasn't lost a December home game since 1999 and is 16-2 at home this month since 1995 under coach Mike Shanahan.

The Broncos feature suddenly efficient quarterback Jake Plummer, the NFL's second-ranked running game, athletic linebackers and All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey.

The 14-point spread is the most the Ravens have been favored to lose by in three years.

"The game is played on the field, and not on paper," Suggs said. "The predictions are predicted probably by somebody that's never touched a football field. It doesn't bother me."

What the Broncos lack is a strong track record against Baltimore, which has dominated the series. In four consecutive wins, the Ravens have outscored Denver 80-42 with an average margin of victory of 14 points.

"They've played smash-mouth football, pretty much bullied us all over the field," Broncos safety Sam Brandon said. "But we've got a new attitude this year."

Neither team has forgotten the Ravens' dramatic wild-card playoff win in 2000 en route to a Super Bowl title where Shannon Sharpe raced into the end zone off a tipped pass. Or a 34-23 Monday night win in 2002 when Chris McAlister returned a missed field goal 107 yards.

"It's that confidence factor that certain teams go into games knowing we got these guys' number," kicker Matt Stover said. "Just that little bit of swagger takes you to another level in your game and takes them down in their game."

In those losses to Baltimore, Denver quarterbacks have combined for two touchdowns and eight interceptions and the Broncos have averaged 3.4 yards per rush.

However, Ravens coach Brian Billick cautioned about putting much stock in an impressive history against the AFC West leaders.

"These are two totally different teams now, so they feel like lifetimes away now," Billick said. "What you draw from that, what they draw from that, it's hard to say."

Billick's pragmatic approach stems from struggles to consistently run the football, throw the football, block and tackle. Nowadays, Billick takes out his Super Bowl ring in his Reisterstown home to renew his faith.

"I have to go back and pull that out of the drawer to remind myself I'm not the village idiot a bit more than I have in years past," Billick said. "In the offseason, we'll crawl through every pore and orifice of this organization and this system to see why we ended up the way we did."

In the frigid air of the Mile High City with an altitude 5,000 feet above sea level, the Ravens hope to reverse their road woes with an upset victory. The players are tired of dwelling on losses in the clouds during the long plane ride home.

"I don't plan on having to worry about that this week," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Hopefully, we can win and get that monkey off our back."

NOTE: The Ravens returned 281 unsold tickets to the Broncos.

 

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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